Most helpful positive review
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
The Big Green Book: fluff and more
on February 21, 2006
There are no fewer than four climbing guides for Thailand of which I am aware. Sirichai Pongsopon's "Thailand Rock Climbing Guide Book" (2005), Wee Changrua/Elke Schmitz's "Rock Climbing in Thailand" (3rd ed, Dec 2005), the King Climber's guidebook (not certain the date on this one), and, of course, Sam Lightner, Jr.'s "Thailand: A Climbing Guide" (2005).
Of all these guidebooks, Sam's guide is by far the thickest, weighing in at nearly 340 pages. Wee's/Elke's and Sirichai's come in in the mid-200s (the King Climber guidebook I opted not to pick up because it was my understanding from a number of other climbers that it was essentially a direct copy of an earlier edition of Wee's/Elke's, errors and all - so I have no hard supporting data for comparisons as with the other three; besides, I only had only so many bahts with which to buy guidebooks!). Sirichai's black and rad-like photo cover guide cuts right to the point: after about 20 pages of "fluff", his book breaks right into topos and listings of routes. There are no route descriptions, however, anywhere. If you come to a tricky spot, you'll have to puzzle it out for yourself (and just go for the next bolt/sling). He does include some notes about rebolting of routes when and where known (at the time of his writing).
Wee's and Elke's black cover guide has a bit more up-front fluff for the traveling climber: about 40 pages worth. But from there the guide dives straight into topos and route listings, with a few routes having brief notes. The book is also sprinkled with a few more fluff pages and advertisements in the routes section.
Sam's book has a bright, spring/aqua-green cover, with a photo of a climber on a route in Dum's Kitchen. His guide spends the first five full chapters - 95 pages - on "fluff", before he begins covering the climbing in general. He goes into a lot of detail for the traveling climber, much of it invaluable for the first-time visitor to Thailand (but already some of it out of date, as is the bane of all guides - information goes out of date before the books hit the stands) (for example, there are easily twice as many bungalow operations in Tonsai than what Sam lists, perhaps even three times as many; good to know for when you arrive and find nothing available at the listed ones). Good reading material for the plane flight to Thailand. For someone who has been to Thailand a couple of times, much of the material is still helpful, esp if you have not had the opportunity to experience everything that Sam has. For those climbers who more or less live in Thailand during the Northern Hemisphere winter months, it is probably superfluous information. Unless you haven't been paying much attention to the culture or environment around you...
One bit of fluff that Sam's guide has which the other guides do not is a section of color photos. While these do not give more information of the climbing walls/routes, they nicely add to the atmosphere of the region, giving a taste of what you might get to see/experience while you are there.
Unlike Wee's/Elke's and Sirichai's, Sam uses primarily photos for his topos (the other guys use exclusively drawings). In some cases the photo topos are quite helpful. In other cases, especially when some of the pertinent details are lost to inconsequential details, or to flat lighting, the drawings of the other guides are a better help for finding routes. If all else fails, one can always ask someone nearby what they are on in order to help orient oneself to the cliffs one is about to climb.
Sam's guide gives more route information than either Wee's/Elke's or Sirichai's, more of what U.S. climbers might expect in a guidebook. Personally I like a route description rather than "just follow the bolts, for crying out loud!" Occasionally, however, he bails on route descriptions in favor of some background information on the route and you're left to either follow the topo, the bolts/slings, and/or the chalk marks to climb it.
As with any guide, not all of Sam's info is accurate or correct (for the 2006 season, increase all the prices - such as longtail rides or bungalow costs - by 10-20 percent). Some of these are just typos, but a few could prove serious. For example, if you arrive with just one 60-meter rope, you are unlikely to try jumping on "The Groove Tube" (or it's neighboring two climbs) without a second rope as Sam notes it is 35-meters tall. However, upon arriving at the base of the climb you'll likely note everyone easily lowers off (or top-ropes) these three routes with a single 60-meter rope. While not critical, had the typo been the other way around...
One of the most negative aspects of Sam's book is his disparaging and often upturned-nose position of most of the easier routes in the region. His guide discriminates against people who don't climb "hard" stuff. He leaves the reader with the impression that if you don't climb 6a or harder, there's really not much there for you to do (and he's not always kind to the 6a routes, either). One area in particular, Shadow Wall, Sam completely dumps on, and refuses to even mention what routes lie within. While Wee/Elke and Sirichai also mention it's not a very nice area, they at least give topos and list routes for the wall. Upon visiting, I found that yes, some routes there are not worth climbing, and yes, the area is most definitely not Dum's Kitchen or Thaiwand, but there are still routes that are perfectly fine to climb - especially for the climber who does NOT climb at the lofty 7a or harder! For the most part Sam treats routes easier than 6a as unworthy and you shouldn't bother (if he even mentions them at all). Sam seems to forget that many climbers, however, only climb at the level of 4s and 5s, and might squeak onto 6a's, but don't do harder routes. Prior to my trip to Thailand I had only Sam's book to go by, and had the VERY wrong impression my climbing time there would be short and brief (as I don't climb 6a/6b in general; however, grades are soft out there, and I was able to get on a number of 6a's and 6b's). Upon picking up Sirichai's and Wee's/Elke's guides, I quickly understood there are a number of moderate level routes the non-elite/non-hardcore climber can get on and still enjoy oneself. And so between those and the 6a's/6b's I climbed, I managed to squeeze in 7 full and enjoyable days of climbing, and still not touch everything I wanted to get on.
Sam does maintain a webpage for updates to the guide ([...] However, he does clarify that he will only consider feedback from other climbers on corrections/updates, and will "eventually" put up that he deems worthy. Something to keep in mind when checking for updates (or sending in feedback).
Overall, as a standalone book for the general climber, I would rate Sam's guide 3.5 on a scale of 1-5 (but Amazon doesn't do half-stars, so I rated it '4'). The saving grace is all the extra fluff. If you were to use it as a supplement to Sirichai's or Wee's/Elke's guide (or both), or you climb exclusively at 7a and harder, it's a 4.5.